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Windows Server 2016 for small servers

Small Steps

Article from ADMIN 42/2017
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Small businesses often do not need the full-blown version of Windows Server 2016. If the application scenarios are manageable, the cheaper Essentials version is the ideal solution; however, it does come with a number of restrictions.

The Windows Server 2016 Essentials management interface, known as the dashboard, has not changed since the 2012 version. From the dashboard, clients and users can manage the network centrally, even without IT skills (Figure 1). The server supports up to 25 user connections and 50 computers. If more are in use, companies need to switch to Windows Server 2016 Standard, which does not have a dashboard. However, the Essentials role, with a dashboard, is available in the Standard and Datacenter editions. If you install the Essentials role on a server running Windows Server 2016 Standard or Datacenter, you will not be limited to 25 users and 50 devices.

Figure 1: Windows Server 2016 Essentials is managed in a dashboard, just like its predecessors.

Compliant Licensing

Windows Server 2012 R2 introduced the option of installing the Essentials functions as a server service on the Datacenter and Standard editions. Client Access Licenses (CALs) are not necessary when using Windows Server 2016 Essentials. The server can have a maximum 64GB of memory. In such a scenario, multiple servers with Windows Server 2016 Essentials can be integrated into an existing Active Directory (e.g., for branches or small offices). A 2016 Essentials license costs around $500 (EUR500).

If you use Windows Server 2012 R2 Foundation, up to 15 users can be connected to the server – again, CALs are not necessary. Foundation is tied in directly with the hardware, because this edition is only available as an OEM version. However, it does not provide a dashboard. Windows Server 2016 does not have a Foundation edition. If you install the Essentials server role (Windows Server Essentials environment) in an existing Active Directory (AD), you can run the server as a member server. The user accounts of the domain in which you install the server are available in the dashboard. With Windows Server 2016, the restrictions are lifted if you integrate the role as a member server on your network.

Windows Server 2016 has numerous innovations in terms of storage and networking. These include the new Storage Spaces Direct, the Nano Server installation, and container technology. However, these innovations are not part of Windows Server 2016 Essentials, although Hyper-V is included in Essentials. You can easily run virtual machines (VMs) on a server with Essentials and virtualize the server itself. To use advanced Hyper-V functions such as shielded VMs, Storage Spaces Direct, and the new storage replication feature, you need the Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2016. A deduplication function for data has been improved in Windows Server 2016, but it is not available in Essentials.

Alternative: MultiPoint Role

Microsoft integrates the MultiPoint Services role into Windows server 2016. Simply put, this is a Remote Desktop Session Host, formerly Terminal Server, for small businesses or training centers that provides a way for users to connect a monitor, keyboard, and mouse directly to the server. The virtual desktops for MultiPoint Services are similar to those of the Remote Desktop Services. On request, the whole thing can also be operated as a VDI environment. MultiPoint can be used in small networks, also without the need for AD. In this case, you work with local user accounts on the server or with the user accounts in AD with 2016 Essentials. The user logs onto the server with these user accounts.

MultiPoint Services does not replace the Essentials role; instead, it is another way to connect users on small networks. If you operate several MultiPoint Servers on the network, they are integrated into the AD. In this case, you can log in with your domain account, which also applies for the operation of Essentials. You can use the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to connect to the server, or you can directly connect the components to the server (e.g., via USB). Also, thin clients specially optimized for MultiPoint are known as multifunction USB hubs. The applications and the desktop that you work with are installed on the MultiPoint Server, as on a Remote Desktop Server.

Cloud Backup and Virus Protection

With Windows Server 2016 Essentials, small businesses can now back up server data in the cloud automatically and safely. Essentials allows the replication of the entire server to Azure. If the server fails, it can be provided as a VM in Azure. In this case, the clients are connected to Azure VM via a virtual network to Microsoft, which makes sense if companies want to set up high availability for Essentials.

By default, Microsoft integrates in-house virus protection through Windows Defender into Windows Server 2016, which is enabled by default in Essentials and can be configured locally, but not in the dashboard (Figure 2). As with the Standard and Datacenter editions, internal virus protection is disabled if you install an external virus scanner.

Figure 2: Windows Defender is integrated into Windows Server 2016.

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